Letterbox Contact: Just because you haven’t got a family, doesn’t mean you haven’t got a family.

Pretty much every male in our family is colour blind. It’s in our DNA. Our adopted son has perfect colour vision. This is akin to a super power and we are in awe of him.

Fostered and adopted kids have a relationship with their birth family.

They may have been ‘removed at birth’.

They may have no recollection of ever meeting them.

They may hate them.

They may eulogise their memory.

They may never mention them and resist any attempt to revisit their past.

However, birth family exist, even if they’ve passed away.

Birth family exists for Foster Carers and adopters too.

Once or twice a year, we receive Letterbox Contact Letters from Birth Family.

The Birth Family send their cards to a Social Services Office.

A Social Worker opens the cards, checks them, and then repackages them in special Council envelopes.

The cards are sent on to us.

We recognise the cards when they arrive, and tend to open them when the relevant child is not in the vicinity.

We are meant to get one at Christmas and one at Birthday.

They tend to arrive not quite on time.

Some of what is written is redacted, which basically means scribbled out and made illegible.

The card or letter can give no clue as to how birth family could be contacted.

First names rather than ‘Mum and Dad’ are used.

There are declarations of love.

I’ve no idea what Birth Family are meant to write and how they’re meant to write it.

It must be awful for them.

Apples don’t fall far from trees. However, occasionally the soil is not quite right, and the apple must be taken away and planted somewhere else.

It may be easier for us to demonise the Birth Parents and consider them as evil.

But they’re clearly not.

A judge, representing us all, decided they could not look after their child, so he came to live with us. We have decided to trust the system and look after him as best we can.

I’ve no idea how a child in care or one who has been adopted is meant to respond to these cards.

We write occasional return letters giving the most cursory of information.

‘He’s happy and he is safe and he likes school.’

Even this simple, innocuous statement, seems loaded with judgement and condemnation.

There is no social etiquette for this scenario.

Occasionally, the Little Man will turn the information about his past into a collage on his wall. 

He has turned a photo of his Birth Mother into a screensaver.

He has turned a photo of his Birth Parents into a screen case.

He has also ripped every photo to shreds and set them on fire.

We’ve learnt to make a digital copy of absolutely everything.

At the moment, there is nothing in his room or in our home to tell a visitor that he has another family.

This may change tomorrow, or next month or next year, or maybe never.

On one occasion, we got a much larger package than usual.

The package was from Social Services, and contained a large amount of ‘life story work’.

There were photos, reports and letters.

I assume this information had been languishing in a filing cabinet, in a store room, in an office, in a Council Building for some time.

My wife and I  learnt many of the details of the Little Man’s early life.

We suddenly had a couple of baby photos, and some slightly sharper photos of birth family.

The resemblances were clear, and we could see he had his mother’s eyes and father’s hair.

In another scenario we’d have cooed about the likeness and similarities.

We’d have celebrated the strength of DNA and said something about ‘apples not falling far from the tree’.

We learnt he was named after a contestant on a Reality TV Show.

Fly casual! It’s very hard to know when it’s a good time to introduce information about a child’s past. Predicting the response is even harder.

We learnt we’d been pronouncing his name correctly.

This was something of a relief.

The decision to show Letterbox Contact materials to a child is not straightforward.

Birth parents have sent this information.

Does a child not have a right to see it and know it?

But what if it triggers a deep visceral reaction? What if the reaction is so angry that rooms are destroyed, adults are assaulted, and self harm is attempted?

In whose interests are we acting?

It was in the middle of the summer holiday when we received this Lifestory Package.

We decided it was a good time to show The Little Man.

There was no school run in the morning and no routine restricting the time we could spend with him, as we considered what his reactions may be.

This was as good a time as any.

‘We’ve had a letter from Social Workers. It is about you. Would you like to see?’

There was definitely curiosity, but no excitement.

No tears.

Just dry eyes as the information was processed.

Most of us want to be like the rest of us.

The Little Man turned the photos into a little shrine in our bedroom.

That night, he decided he wanted to sleep in our room, and built himself a nest of duvets, blankets and pillows.

This was new behaviour, but we went with it.

As we drifted off to sleep, he began one of his monologues.

To no one in particular, he said;

‘I am here, in my bed, between all my parents.’

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Birth parent, Foster Carer, Adopter and Recruiter of Foster Carers for Liverpool City Council

3 thoughts on “Letterbox Contact: Just because you haven’t got a family, doesn’t mean you haven’t got a family.”

  1. For me this is definitely one of the hardest parts of the role of a Foster Carer and that’s probably because, like lots of what we do, there is no manual to tell us what is the right thing to do and the experience as well as the reaction to it can be different for every child – even siblings from the same family. We are currently about to embark on some ‘Life Work’ over this school holiday as it seems like a good time for all concerned, but I have to admit I am filled with trepidation at the prospect! Wish us all luck xxx


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